‘…But then he was asked about Prince Andrew — and this was after the Maitlis interview. Although he tried to avoid particulars, he did say: “I am not commenting on any member of the royal family except to say that I am astonished at what a gift they are to this country.
“They do serve in a way that is extraordinary in what is literally, for them, a life sentence. I think to ask that they be superhuman saints is not what we should do because nobody is like that. Everybody makes mistakes, everybody is human.”
This is remarkably tone deaf, even if mostly true. Obviously you could defend most other members of the Royal Family in those terms, but not Andrew, who, if he has been a gift to any country, has been one only to places like Kazakhstan.
Nor is it the way in which the Archbishop reacted to the apparently much less credible allegations about Bishop George Bell.
The Mail made it a front-page splash, under the headline “Welby: don’t expect royals to be saints”.
I think that this was one of the rare moments in which Archbishop Welby’s poshness and instinctive sympathy for the people among whom he grew up really handicaps him for the job. One of the things that the clergy and the monarchy have in common is the experience of a sense of duty, or of calling. It makes for a bond of sympathy which must be inexplicable if you haven’t ever felt it yourself. This is a culture that takes self-invention for granted, and is hostile to the idea that you don’t have any real choice about how you are, only how well you are going to be that person.
So, it’s easy to forget just how inexplicable the concept of service seems when summoned to the defence of someone such as Prince Andrew, who appeared to have few royal duties to fulfil, and now has none. Still, like every other row in the papers, it will all be over by Christmas.